The Everyday Genius Institute Takes a Look Inside the Minds of Top CMOs

What if you could climb into the mind of a genius, take a look around, and discover just how they achieve such exceptional results? Taryn Voget, Co-founder and CMO at the Everyday Genius Institute, does just that. Her latest report Patterns of Marketing Genius looks at how top chief marketing officers generate innovative ideas that get big results. Taryn discusses how the Everyday Genius Institute began and the findings of her latest report.

Tell me a bit about why you decided to start the Everyday Genius Institute?

I had become friends with one of the world’s leading Behavioral Scientists.  Tim Hallbom is a genius at deconstructing how people think.  So as I was driving over the Golden Gate Bridge the idea hit me: what if Tim and I could model the strategies of the world’s best and teach others how to get the same results? The idea of helping people  shortcut their learning curve and achieve top tier results excited me.  I’d much rather be a Genius than a Dummy, wouldn’t you?  I pitched the idea to Tim and a month later we launched the Everyday Genius Institute.

Your research talks about the patterns of marketing genius. What are the top three insights you found about marketing genius?

It was fascinating to model five truly exceptional Chief Marketing Officers – to get inside their minds to understand on a deep level how they think and do what they do. We wanted to know:  “How do top CMOs come up with innovative ideas that get big results?”  The top CMOs we interviewed have lead direct mail campaigns that have achieved a 60%+ response rate, taken products from $10B a year to $40B a year in sales, or united and built a global brand around 430 patchwork acquisitions.  We wanted to know, step-by-step, how they came up with these truly genius marketing ideas that got huge results.

The assumption you might make is that these CMOs are creative geniuses or have big enough budgets to hire the top creative agencies in the world.  The reality was very different.  All of the ‘big ideas’ came from within their organization.  Three key insights we discovered were:

1. Genius begins with big dreams, high quality goals and laser-like focus.  We have interviewed a lot of geniuses.  One thing they all have in common is that they operate from clear, high quality goals.  In the case of the marketers, they viewed themselves as business people who happen to do marketing.  They all had incredible, measurable goals for increasing revenue performance, expanding markets, increasing customer satisfaction, etc.  These clear business goals informed the specific campaign goals.  I love the story one of the CMOs tells about an employee who walked into his office suggesting they invest in a big YouTube campaign to ‘build buzz.’  The CMO replied, “Buzz?  You want to spend resources ‘building buzz?’  Come back to me when you can tell me specifically how ‘building buzz’ achieves any one of our revenue and growth goals.  Until then, I’m not interested in ‘buzz.’”  These CMOs weren’t after the most exciting creative, buzz generating campaigns.  They were all about big, exciting, measurable growth.

2. There is a structure to ‘intuition’.  When we asked the CMOs how they knew an idea would work they said, “I just knew it.”  It was our job to unpack this intuition and learn what was behind it.  What we discovered was that when a marketer says they ‘just know’ some idea will work, they are really just processing information in a rapid, highly efficient way.

When they heard marketing campaign ideas, they would run these ideas through two filters.  They would first run a marketing idea through the filter of their goals.  They asked themselves, does this idea meet the business and campaign objectives?  The second filter was the customer filter.  They asked themselves: Would their customer respond to this idea? This fast processing of information felt to them like a ‘gut feel’ or an ‘intuition.’  In reality there was a solid structure behind it.  This might sound incredibly obvious to anyone reading this, but it became clear to me that top marketers have developed and refined this ‘intuition’, especially about their customers, over years.  In our report we show people specifically how they can deconstruct and enhance their own intuition.

3. Brilliant ideas come from anywhere.  How the CMOs came to the actual Big Idea was totally different in every case.  In one instance, the idea was almost a year in the making.  In another case the Big Idea was tossed around (and rejected by) the organization and when the new CMO came in, he resurrected it and brought it to life.  The CMOs are great at keeping their eyes and ears open.  They recognize that great ideas are all around.  They view it as their job to notice them.  They were also great at creating organizations where creativity thrived.  And part of that means allowing the possibility of failure.  One of the CMOs liked to tell his team, “It’s Marketing – no one here is going to die if we fail. Go big.”

What was the biggest surprise you found?

I think what surprised me most was how agile these marketers were.  The average CMO is at a company for 22 months.  These CMOs were quick to understand their customer, even when they jumped to different industries.  They shared a unique blend of being highly flexible and creative with that of being incredibly business minded and focused on results.  It’s a rare combination to find that in people, especially in the senior ranks of companies.  Without exception they all had quick and flexible minds and threw around ideas easily.  It was this ability, combined with their business acumen and focus, that gave me the clear sense that they could make magic happen anywhere.

What is the most critical mistake marketers make that the “geniuses” can avoid?

The biggest mistake most marketers make is probably in not thinking big enough.  So many marketers are trying to increase conversion rates by .5% or go from $10M a year to $12M a year.  You are going to get what you ask for.  So you might as well ask for something bigger and more exciting.  It’s far more exciting for a team to try to achieve the impossible than to try and eek out a few more clicks or ‘likes.’  Geniuses think big and get big results.

What is one thing that every marketer should do immediately based on your research?

In our report, “Patterns of Marketing Genius” we outline a number of steps that any marketer can follow to get genius results.  So the first thing I would do is download a copy of the report and read it. It’s been my experience that marketers do too many different things and many of them can’t be quantified in terms of marketing ROI. I recently met one top CMO who was creating a whole new internet award that companies could win.  It was a huge project requiring lots of resources.  I couldn’t see, and she couldn’t clearly articulate, how this was going to generate more revenue.  It was sort of like the ‘build buzz’ story.  So the one thing every marketer should do (after reading the report) is get crystal clear on their overall business goals.  Then take a look at every single marketing activity and evaluate it against the goals.  If it doesn’t meet one of the business goals, axe it.  Get more focused on what matters.

Why is it important to manage the politics in an organization?

It came as no surprise that these marketers were all very politically savvy.  They often had to get outrageous ideas passed through the senior ranks in their companies.  They frequently met a lot of resistance.  The inexperienced marketer would let typical corporate politics shut down what could be the radical, game changing idea.  It’s not enough to come up with a great idea, it’s incredibly important to get the organization to agree to it. Political savvy is a skill needed for real genius to break free.

Anything else you’d like to discuss?

People often want to know how we deconstruct genius.  The answer is:  it’s part art and part science.  In our Genius Lab we ask a very specific sequence of questions.  So the answers and the words tell us part of how geniuses are thinking.  We also look for what is going on subconsciously – things that not even the person is aware of in their own thought process.  We look at eye movements, body language and voice tonality.  It’s often these things that, when we slow them down and analyze them, tell us how a person is really thinking.  It’s a style of interviewing that I’d like to get out in the world as you can get a huge amount of high quality information in a short amount of time. Maybe that will be our next Genius title……

You can learn more about Taryn Voget and the Everyday Genius Institute by visiting their website at www.everydaygeniusinstitute.com  Download a FREE copy of the report by visiting The CMO CLUB.

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Jon (@jonmiller) leads Marketo's product marketing, strategy, and content marketing initiatives. He is the author of multiple Definitive Guides including Marketing Automation, Engaging Email Marketing, and Marketing Metrics & Analytics. In 2010, The CMO Institute named Jon a Top 10 CMO for companies under $250 million revenue. Jon holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard College and has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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